The following guest post by the Rev. Aaron Payson and the Rev. Thomas Schade features a collaborative Association Sunday experiment using Skype. Love it! ~ Peter
“What could 600+ Unitarian Universalists do in Worcester?” This was the central question that inspired an experiment in the use of technology and congregational cooperation during the 2011 Association Sunday services held October 2 in two Worcester, MA congregations.
Wedding the themes of the Jewish High Holidays and Association Sunday, Revs. Payson and Schade conceived of a plan to be present together in both sanctuaries simultaneously on Association Sunday to dialogue about strengthening the ties that bind the congregations together within the larger UU movement. The Jewish High Holidays presented an opportunity to reflect on repairing the ties that bind us together. Association Sunday was an apt opportunity to outline a vision of cooperation between congregations.
It was clear to both Tom and Aaron that the two Worcester congregations had largely operated in parallel over the 50 year history since merger. Unique in their histories and styles of worship, old assumptions about each congregations personality and theological make-up have hitherto inhibited an attempt to conceive of a Unitarian Universalist presence in the wider community that transcended the boundaries of each UU community.
But the growing awareness that the social networks crafted by members in each community often linked them together in ways that made distinctions between the congregations negligible as far as friendships were concerned. This, combined with the efforts on the part of members of both communities to commune together on the 3rd weekend of September in a combined weekend of social activities at Ferry Beach Camp and Conference Center in Saco, Maine, and the history of cooperation between the youth of both congregations both in terms of youth group programming and a combined youth c choir, suggested that this was a relationship worth revisiting and reimagining.
Technology teams in both congregations set up computers and video recorders in their sanctuaries. A Friday test run of the technology using skype as the shared medium for projecting each into the other’s sanctuary went well.
On Sunday the video feed was near perfect, but Skype provided a few tense moments of audio-fluctuation as well as a disconnection of the video feed due to computer presets. This, however, did not dampen the energy and enthusiasm garnered in both communities for the novelty of the experience and the opportunity it provided for each congregation to be inspired to consider ways of doing more together.
One parishioner at the UU Church of Worcester immediately commented that she’d like to start a poetry cooperative and had a vision of a Sunday where poetry authored by members and friends of both congregations could be incorporated into worship in both communities on that day.
From our perspective, the exercise was a good first step toward a larger conversation we are planning for winter 2012 when representatives from both communities will meet to discuss the possibilities of a larger UU mission in Worcester.
Such an effort recognizes the unique character and gifts that each congregation embodies and the reality that such we also have much in common about a community made more peaceful, loving, and just if we could unite or passions toward a common, transformative, purpose in the city and region that sustains us both.